Previous year Cactus League visit

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by violist, Jan 27, 2015.  |  Print Topic

  1. violist
    Original Member

    violist Gold Member

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    So it's coming up on spring training this year, and I found
    this previous year's report that I might as well send out.

    UA1233 BOS EWR 1156 1338 73G 21A

    No upgrade for me. I didn't get too exercised over this, and
    the flight, scheduled for 1 h 42, took just the 42 part, so
    we slid right into our gate way at the end of C, by all the
    more interesting food outlets. As I had a craving for beef,
    there was a choice between Smashburger, fairly cheap, and
    Gallagher's, grossly overpriced; so I went to the former
    and had a double CYO (create your own) burger. These were
    a pair of 5ish oz patties very heavily seasoned with coarse
    salt and coarse pepper on an egg bun; my condiment choices:
    chipotle mayo was rather spicy and rather smoky, rather
    good, but there wasn't enough of it; and grilled onions were
    greasy (this means good in my book). The burgers had a trace
    of pink at first bite but were fully well done by maybe a
    minute later (the meat was piping hot). The food was okay,
    but I seriously contemplated making a detour to Gallagher's
    on the way to the club; I was deterred by the $3/oz tariff
    for the strip steak, no sides, which came for $12 plus each.

    Still 4 hours before the flight - my connection had gotten
    in unconscionably early, but the next one would have been
    risky given the weather and all -, so I amused myself
    attempting to get drunk on Jim Beam, the free whiskey at
    the club (I seem to recall it having been Wild Turkey in
    the past, but that was then). I failed miserably. Maybe
    should have gone to Gallagher's anyway.

    UA 504 EWR PHX 1730 1950 752 8A

    This is the seat formerly known as 9A, of which I have
    become fond, though as there's no floor stowage, it's
    necessary to board early to secure enough bin space. After
    I'd settled in, an attractivish brunette gave me a little
    smile as she went past. Oho, thought I.

    I settled in, glad of an empty next to me, and was just
    getting ready for some shuteye when I got jostled - by, in
    fact, the brunette, who had been victim of a duplicate seat
    assignment. She was even more attractive up close and proved
    to be a pleasant if intermittent conversation partner. She
    was also otherwise spoken for, which was fine as 1. I was
    old enough to be her father and 2. so am I. The flight went
    pretty quickly, though.

    My friend Bill was at the curb waiting for me. He hadn't had
    dinner either, so we went off to the Taqueria Mucho Gusto in
    Tempe, where I've had a meal or two before and which is open
    blessedly late. He had decent but not too generous machaca
    tacos, the meat tasty and of the right texture. He asked for
    the guacamole on the side, as he doesn't like it and I do.
    It was oily and mediocre, sort of like a green mayonnaise.
    I had tortilla soup, very un-Mexican tasting, followed by
    the Oaxacan tamales with "spicy" red roast pork. These were
    perfectly fine if a little bland, covered in a peanut and
    chocolate mole with a bit of cinnamon that helped a bit. It
    wasn't until I tasted this that I recall I'd ordered it
    before and found it underseasoned and too lean in the gringo
    style. Riddle me this: Dos Equis amber on draft, 16 oz, $4;
    Coors Light in bottle, 12 oz, $5.

    As he's now a member of La Quinta's rewards program, I let
    him choose the one at the airport for our pied a terre. The
    room was smallish but okay, fairly tidy; he was apparently
    disappointed, as he'd been accustomed to better when he's
    stayed at other properties.
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  2. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    The breakfast offering - stale pastry, unripe fruit, acrid
    liquids in the office - having been deemed wanting, we went
    to nearby Yvonne's Cafe, well reviewed on the Internet. It
    was bustling right along, and it was a few before a table
    cleared up, and we swooped down on it. Between us we ordered
    my two favorite breakfast dishes (read only ones I'll eat).
    Copious rounds of tasting, so I am not clear on who ordered

    Hash and eggs was made with shredded corned beef round (lean
    and therefore disappointing) and chunked real potatoes; if I
    liked potatoes, they would have been good, but I actually
    prefer the little tiny cubes that taste more like can than
    like a foodstuff.

    Country-fried steak is an indulgence that I pounce on on the
    rare occasions when I remember to bring my lactase pills to
    breakfast. This consisted of really quite good sausage
    gravy, second only to that of the Sheraton Anchorage for
    toothsomeness, over really quite decent round steak pounded
    within an inch of its life but at least not that Kafkaesquely
    tenderized meatoid that you get in lesser restaurants; this
    was sided with pretty good real potatoes with crusty bits
    and lots of variously fried onion.

    Off to see Team Japan (tuning up for the World Baseball
    Classic) @ Giants in Scottsdale, a stadium I enjoy for the
    catering (Don & Charlie's for brisket, among other things)
    but hate for the parking. We got there early for a good
    spot, as Bill has gone kind of lame in the last few years.
    This gave me time to become slightly overserved before the
    game started. We watched amazed as Japan racked up Yusmeiro
    Petit and completely outplayed the world champs, tidily
    taking the game 6-3.

    I'd talked up the Roaring Fork to Bill (TransWorldOne had
    introduced this to me a long time ago, when he was a student
    at ASU), and I'd enjoyed it a few times since. Well, aided
    by a number of stadium beers and my even more diminished
    eyesight, we drove right past 4800 and hilariously decided
    that we weren't meant to have pork in green chile that day.
    Even more hilariously, I decided to visit that temple of
    gluttony, Bill Johnson's in Mesa, where you used to get a
    porterhouse of varying size (advertised at 36 oz I think),
    which, if you ate the whole thing, you got a t-shirt saying
    "I Ate the Big One." I used to go every second year or so so
    I could give a t-shirt to a chosen friend that Christmas.
    Well, they no longer serve the Big One, which was the only
    reason for going. I got the cutesily named Nate Loves
    Sirloin, which was a modestly cut and modestly priced shell
    steak, of good supermarket quality, not more, too thin and
    wet to get any kind of char when ordered blue rare. Bill,
    perhaps economizing, got the pulled pork sandwich, whose
    contents were clearly boil-in-bag. Sort of sad, as it's gone
    from joke food that's good to joke food that's a joke. Beer
    was our consolation, and even that was bad, although served
    cold cold cold, as the climate dictates.

    Speaking of which, we went to a liquor store down by the
    university, where Bill got his Milwaukee's Swill and I
    picked up a six of malty, honeyed Salvator for $11 about
    4x what his cost).
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  3. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Breakfast time again - Harlow's on University, with its
    cheesy movie theme and similarly dairy-heavy food. The
    staff is harried (the place was pretty busy) but friendly.

    Sausages and biscuits were as advertised, rather greasy
    and underflavored.

    A green chile beef burrito was enormous, but I'd have
    preferred twice the spice and half the size. It came with
    totally superfluous home fries and a perfunctory salad of
    shredded iceberg.

    This was one of those meals that reinforces my disdain
    for breakfast.

    At Hohokam, in the last season the Cubs were in residence,
    we watched a pretty good game, the visiting Team Japan
    taking Chicago pitching deep several times; but the Cubbies
    finally pulled it out 7-5 with a walkoff homer by Javier
    Baez, who despite substantial heroics in this and other
    games, never made it into the regular season lineup.

    An early dinner at Lo-Lo's expansion place on Scottsdale Rd.
    - I was dubious until I heard that the place had a beer
    licence, so off we went for a snacky meal:

    Fried chicken thighs were juicy and tender but a bit on the
    salty side (thank goodness for that beer). An order of
    gizzards came neither juicy nor tender but also extremely
    salty. I'm betting that as they don't sell as fast as real
    food, the kitchen keeps them in salt until time to cook.
    Gizzard ham, if you please.

    Sides were dull mac & cheese and dull beans and rice,
    both salty. I might have had a second bite of one of these,
    but I don't remember it. No third bite, that's for sure.

    Kilt Lifter from local Four Peaks Brewing, a Scottish-style
    strong ale, helped the food go down.

    All in all, other than the Cubs finally winning a game,
    not the most satisfying of days.
  4. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Ranch House Grille is famous for its country-fried steak
    and for its chile verde, both agreeable to me, but I didn't
    particularly want the eggs, hash browns, and toast that
    come with; so I got a side of CFS and a side of chile verde,
    paying about the same as a small full breakfast but getting
    a bit more meat and avoiding the tasteless stuff. The meat
    was not as good, I thought, as Yvonne's, but still quite
    respectable. The chile verde, pretty bland, also thin and
    wet, also very green tasting, as though the green chiles
    had been substituted for with nopalitos. Eh.

    Bill had never been to Talking Stick at Salt River, the
    newest (now second newest) ballpark on the circuit. It's
    soaring and modern and quite the sight for old folks such as
    we. We had a good long time to admire it as we tottered from
    the remote parking lot, being too cheap to buy into the VIP
    one. If Bill had suppressed his vanity and gotten a placard,
    we could have parked in a handicapped zone, but no. Anyhow,
    there are electric carts to take the lame and halt between
    the lot and the stadium. They stopped for pretty much every
    pretty girl in the neighborhood but not for us, despite Bill
    being in some obvious discomfort as he walked. I suppose we
    could have hailed one of them, but we both have our vanity.

    Inside, catering is mediocre, though there are some "native"
    specialties available, such as (not so good) fry bread. We
    watched a similar mediocre game between the Mariners and the
    Rockies, in which the Mariners prevailed 5-2, though truth
    be told, I found a stand where a cute young shill sold me a
    big tumbler of cheap but strangely alcoholic sangria for not
    too much money and another stand where another cute young
    shill sold me a generous tumbler of Gentleman Jack for less
    than that sangria and the same as a hard lemonade. The heck
    with baseball, just get a little lit and watch the world go
    by, yeah!

    Eventually, time to go get some food to soak up the booze.
    This time we found the Roaring Fork, though we did overshoot
    it once and had to go behind the place (it's in the ground
    floor of an office building and is less than prominent, to
    give us credit) and approach it from the side.

    It was happy hour, so we had the various things on special
    offer. So that's how I got to taste a huckleberry margarita.
    If you like sweet girly drinks, this is fine, but it doesn't
    really taste like either huckleberries or a margarita. Just
    sayin'. I switched to the Earthbound Merlot, an off brand
    that is actually kind of earthy, but more importantly cheap.
    Bill, unable to get Milwaukee's Best in such a distinguished
    establishment, stuck with Coors Light.

    There are free snacks at the bar, mostly cheap-ass cheese
    that manages to have no aroma whatever (probably mercifully
    so), and chips.

    We got a pot of the famous chile verde, which was obviously
    made in advance for the occasion and not nearly so good as
    when you order it for real in the restaurant, and an order
    of "pig wings," the small part of the pork shank in barbecue
    sauce; I think these come in a huge frozen pack and are the
    same anywhere you go - I used to get them at happy hour at
    Big Fish with Carol a decade ago, and they were pretty much

    I'd perhaps rather have had real food, but, what the hey,
    spring training tickets have gotten expensive, and one must
    economize somewhere.
  5. violist
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    violist Gold Member

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    Back to Municipal Stadium, where we saw the Cubs challenge
    the Athletics but not nearly enough, as the home team
    whupped them 12-6.

    Singularly poor alcohol choices here (almost makes me glad
    the stadium has been ceded to ASU, and the Athletics have
    moved into Hohokam) - Mike's Hard Black Cherry Lemonade
    was about the best offering.

    Bill had to go on back to Havasu, so he dropped me off with
    my friends Carl and Ellen; after a couple toasts at home,
    we went to Royal Thai, one of our favorites in the area.
    Chuckie the owner is a hoot, and his wife in the kitchen is
    quite the artist. Plus they have an enormous gas burner that
    cooks your wok hei infused food in a matter of seconds.

    We started with a duck soup with wide rice noodles that had
    essentially no duck but quite a few shreds of duck skin,
    which is fine with me. The broth was delicate and required a
    bit of fixing up with hot pepper and soy.

    Chuckie was deputed to choose the rest of our meal based on
    what he knows Carl and Ellen like (they are regulars).

    A beef salad with cabbage was sort of larblike but cooked
    strips instead of raw mince; also, it was lacking the ox
    bile that often seasons larb and that Carl hates. It was
    only moderately spicy, but our next course made up for it.

    Som tum is shredded green papaya salad in a dressing that
    is hot, sour, and sweet in that order. I enjoy hotter food
    than most of my friends do, but this like to take my head
    off; as Anthony Bourdain would say, in a good way.

    Issan-style pork jerky, sweet-salty and lots of coriander,
    came with a green hot pepper and fish sauce dip. This was
    quite chewy and might put people off a bit if their teeth
    are subpar, but the tenderized meat that some places fob off
    on you is inauthentic.

    We ended with my choice, moo pah, appropriately gamy and
    fatty, with lots of black pepper and basil; Carl and I
    really enjoyed this, but Ellen couldn't stand it, so Chuckie
    brought out a dish of mixed vegetables in a sort of Chinese
    treatment for her, for which she was thankful.

    We made up for our food gluttony with modesty in the booze
    department: a Singha each was deemed to be enough.

    The prices are reasonable. With beers, I don't think we
    spent more than 40 for the three of us.

    We went back to the house, chatted for a while, watched some
    amusing YouTube videos, and then I crashed there for an
    unconscionably long time, not waking until the sunbeams
    flooded into the room and hit me in the eyes.


    Bill being gone, and Carl and Ellen not being early people,
    there was no breakfast to endure; around 11 or maybe closer
    to noon we had a lunch of leftovers. We had been thinking
    off seeing the Athletics again, this time playing Seattle,
    following which I was to tag along with Carl to a bluegrass
    jam and get dropped off at the airport afterward, but he was
    feeling lousy and slept most of the day, so I sat around
    doin' nothin' (rereading Sherlock Holmes stories, actually),
    and at some point after a dinner of more old Thai food (we
    really had gotten too much) Ellen drove me to the airport,
    where security was fast, so I ended up staring at the
    ceiling for an hour before my flight.

    UA 953 PHX EWR 2210 0538 752 3E

    The snack was an odd deconstructed Greek salad thing; I
    said no, to which the flight attendant nodded knowingly.
    A couple Courvoisiers and I was out for the count.

    Three hours at the airport with nothing to do but drink.
    I understand that as of 2015 there is no alcohol served at
    the club before 8 am, which would have made this layover
    pretty unendurable. Luckily that rule did not obtain then.

    UA 367 EWR BOS 0838 0937 320 3B

    And slept through this flight as well, a waste of the
    ubersweet United first class experience. When I woke I
    found a Biscoff cookie on my armrest.

    We landed on time.

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